I’m a huge Google fanboi. I really can’t help it. I know it’s an evil corporation. I know it collects information about me. I know it’s stranglehold on the search market should be as scary as Microsoft’s stranglehold on the OS market. Especially since Microsoft’s near monopoly seems to be cracking in many places these days, while Google remains an unopposed behemoth towering above the irrelevant and tiny search engines that angrily nip at it’s feet. I should hate them, and be afraid of them…
But God damn it, they make such awesome stuff! Everything that comes out of their labs is incredibly well done, stable and in most cases open source. That’s like a complete polar opposite from Microsoft. Their software is amazing, their corporate culture seems great from outside and their geek friendly approach to everything makes them appear as a friendly fuzzy kitten you’d like to feed and hug.
Needless to say, I can’t help but be excited about Chrome OS – their new operating system designed mostly for notebooks and small portable devices. If you have never heard of it and you would like to see it in action, you should watch this here demo:
Of course seeing a demo on Youtube is much different from actually using the thing in real life. I was really anxious to try it first hand. Fortunately Chrome OS is actually an open source effort. The open version of the OS is known as Chromium and you can easily obtain it’s code and build it yourself. Or if you are lazy you can wait till someone does it for you.
A guy named hexxeh actually did this and released a working build of Chromium OS some time ago. I’m saying “some time ago” because I’m not sure yet where am I going to stick this post yet. You see I usually have at least a week of posts queued up and ready to go. When I write something new, it usually lands at the end of the queue which means it may actually see the light of day two or three weeks after I wrote it. Also I sometimes write about stuff I did few weeks ago but never had a chance to comment on – so my perception of time tends to be a bit fuzzy.
Any way, as soon as I found the hexxxeh build I immediately downloaded it, put it on a thumb drive and booted it on a spare laptop I had lying around:
First impression? The build is still a little buggy. For some reason the clicks were not registering well on Dell Vostro 1000. Sometimes I would click on a tab and nothing would happen. Other times I would just move my mouse pointer and Chromium would register it as a tap. I verified that an older Dell 600m machine had exactly the same pointer problems. Anyone else noticed that? I guess they still have to work on the touchpad support a bit. On the good side, both machines I tried it on flawlessly detected the wifi and ethernet cards which is sort of the most important thing with this OS.
Other than that… Ok, I have to admit that as far as operating systems go, Chromium is a bit boring. I booted it up, logged in clicked on the few tabs, pulled up my Gmail and… Well, there was nothing else to do. The “application” tab is basically just a directory of links to online services – the same services I use outside of Chrome. Most operating systems are worth checking out for the sake of exploring. They offer you a myriad of apps, configuration settings and all that fun stuff. I always love that exploration phase when you check out an new operating system and learn how to use it. Chrome however has none of that.
It’s basically just a browser window, with bunch of pre-set favorites that take you to online services. There is nothing to explore and nothing to learn. Seriously – it just works. It’s easy, intuitive and hassle free. And I guess that’s the whole point. As a technology enthusiast this is a bit of a letdown. I mean, the damn thing doesn’t even have a terminal app or a file system. How the hell am I supposed to use an OS without a CLI interface? How can you even do anything without a file system?
But alas, I am not the target audience here. Target audience is your regular
village idiot computer user, who doesn’t know what a terminal or file system is. And since they don’t know, they don’t need it. Hell, most people I know have no clue how would one use a file system to begin with. Files and folders hopelessly confuse them. If they must save something, they save it to the desktop. If they can however, they try to bypass the file system altogether by opening files from within the email and then sending them without ever hitting the save button.
This is why I think Chrome OS will be a success. It is so simple even a caveman could do it. It either works or it doesn’t work. There is nothing to configure, nothing to fix and nothing to break. Seriously, there is literally no way to delete something by accident or mess with the system files. There are no local applications and everything is held in the cloud so there is no need for backups either.
The only problem of course is using the machine without internet connection. For example on a train, plain or automobile. But Google already has a solution for that – Google Gears (and HTML 5 of course). Most of Google apps already have an offline mode you can activate at any time. So unless you somehow manage to wipe the Gears cache just before you leave home, you should have access to most of your files and documents even when your internet is down.
And if Google doesn’t fuck this up for us, there is a possibility that you will be able to install 3rd party Chromium plugins written in Go. Which means we could eventually have a bash shell or even a full POSIX compatible environment.
Would I run it as my primary OS? No. Not even as my secondary OS. The fact the thing doesn’t currently allow running any local aps makes it way too limited for my needs. But I would put it on something the size of a Dell Mini. A tiny notebook that you grab with you to a boring lecture or to read a book on a train.
It’s the type of OS you give to your grandma. Easy to use, almost impossible to break and almost maintenance free. If Grandmom somehow manages to fuck it up, you just re-install the damn thing from scratch (which will take you 5 minutes as opposed to 3 hours that Windows installation usually takes) and give it back to her. Storing all the data in the cloud, and keeping the OS tiny will really cut down on the amount of maintenance these machines could possibly need.